Category: Archive

Barry still hanging around, waiting for ‘sail’

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Either way, Commodore John Barry is still hanging around on a wall, waiting to sail out the door once sold to the right buyer, he or she being anyone who can come up with $300,000.
“Nobody has made a sufficient offer,” art dealer Bruce Gimelson told the Echo.
“The economy is so lousy, people are afraid to pull the trigger,” he said.
Gimeslon said that a lot of people were still interested in the Gilbert Stuart portrait of the father of the United States Navy, including some in the art and antiques trade.
“I think the Naval Academy should buy it. There’s a group of people putting up a statue of Barry at the academy,” Gimelson said.
Gimelson believes that the Stuart portrait of Barry is arguably the most important Irish American painting in existence, even more significant than the White House painting of President Kennedy.
The portrait in oil of the County Wexford-born Barry is 29 by 24 inches, dates to about 1801 and is the only depiction of the man, who in addition to his longtime title of “father,” is now known officially as the “first flag officer” of the United States Navy.
Stuart, by turn, is the most famous portrait painter of his era.
“If this was of George Washington it would be sold in a minute, but you have to remember that Stuart painted a hundred portraits of Washington, but only one of Barry. This is iconic,” Gimelson, who is based in Putnam County, New York, told the Echo when he first placed the Barry portrait on the market.
The portrait was in the possession of members of the Barry family up until the 1970s or early ’80s. According to Gimelson, it was “consigned” to him last year by its present owner.
The references to Barry as the “father” of the United States Navy first surfaced in a biographical sketch of Barry published in 1813, 10 years after his death.
But for many Barry aficionados there was long a lingering sense that this accolade fell short of what Barry truly deserved and that for too long Barry’s reputation had played second fiddle to that of John Paul Jones of Continental Navy fame.
This changed in the waning days of 2004 when President Bush signed a congressional initiative recognizing the 6-feet-4 commodore as the “first flag officer” of the United States Navy.
Barry, who was born in 1745, received his commission from the very first Congress. He took command of his first ship, the 14-gun brig Lexington, on December 7th, 1775. It was a command that would give the British cause to cry “infamy.”
In April 1776, as captain of the Lexington, Barry captured the sloop HMS Edward, thus securing his position in history as the first American naval officer to lay hands on one of King George’s ships.
The end of the war resulted in a brief pause in Barry’s naval career, though he remained at sea in the merchant service. But President George Washington had other plans for a man who, though he was still under 40, more than qualified for old sea dog status.
In June 1794, Barry was put in charge of training the first cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy. By virtue of this posting, Barry was now senior captain in the new federal navy.
He was formally awarded Commission Number One in the United States Navy by Washington in February 1797. The commission was backdated to 1794.
In addition to overseeing the academy, Barry was also assigned the job of building the 44-gun frigate United States, in its day the most powerful ship in the fleet.
Barry would command the United States in the Caribbean during what became known as the Quasi-War with France between 1798 and 1801. It was during this time that he attained the honorific rank of commodore because he commanded the U.S. Navy’s entire force assigned to the West Indies station. There was no rank of admiral in the navy at the time.
After returning to Philadelphia, Barry continued to serve shore duty until his death on Sept. 13, 1803, a day long since recognized by the Ancient Order of Hibernians as Commodore John Barry Day. Barry rests at Old St. Mary’s Churchyard in Philadelphia.
Brude Gimelson, meanwhile, said he would hold on to the portrait until it can achieve its right price. It was, at any rate, something very nice to gaze at.
Additional details on the Barry portrait are posted on Gimelson’s website, www.brucegimelson.com.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese